The best-selling album of all time in the United Kingdom is Queen’s Greatest Hits, a compilation album that was first released in 1981. According to authorities in the music business, as of February 2014, this album had sold more than six million copies, of which only approximately 124,000 were from downloads – the rest were vinyl, CD and other media. Now if I wanted to advise a young guitar student of mine  how to succeed in the music business I could look at all the reasons why Queen are still in that coveted number one slot and enumerate them into a prescriptive (or proscriptive) thirty point list. I could say that you have no hope of succeeding in the business unless you do all these thirty things. I would be wrong and I would be laughed at because in music what succeeds and maintains success long after hype and payola have ceased to artificially boost a band’s reputation and sales is PERSONALITY.

Queen, when they first burst in on the music scene in the 1970s, had already been going for some time doing all the important stuff that people told them would help them succeed. They were not brand new and they did their share of emulating former stars too. That is called serving an apprenticeship and it is pretty vital to success in the business; likewise The Beatles played many live shows in Europe, played covers and changed band members before they got their break courtesy of Brian Epstein and “made it”. Eventually there comes a time when the band gets tired of doing the same-old-same-old received wisdom that never works and they say:

“Sod it! We are going to do…”

That is often the point at which A&R men sit up and say:

“Hang on just a bleedin’ minute…”

Then they get the push and they break out big time.

It helps to have an exciting hook line, an amazing voice up front like Freddie Mercury, a fantastic skilled guitar player like Brian May and all the rest of the talented lovelies in Queen but to be radical and not to slavishly copy is the secret to lasting success. This is what Queen did. This is why they are still selling downloads to the grandchildren of the first generation of their fans. This is why, amongst all those money making published bands, they will never be forgotten.

When it comes to writing, is there any need these days of that long, long list of rules the publishing houses put together to account for half a dozen mega successful genre authors? My belief is that the market is now far more new and exciting than it ever was. Many of the classics break many of these “rules” and my belief is that the new “classics” will break them too. If your sole interest as a writer is to get a toe in the door of a genre publisher then follow them however you have no need to do this if you self publish. In self publication there are few rules although there might be a few guidelines:

  • Have a good story
  • Tell it well
  • Be original, sparkling and personal in your writing
  • Don’t apologise for description, scene setting or adverbs, just use them tastefully
  • Strive for balance but allow your words to have a life
  • Write fewer words rather than more but make every single one of those words count
  • Read
  • Edit
  • Re-read
  • Edit
  • Read aloud to a friend
  • Edit
  • Let a friend read the proof
  • Edit
  • If you can’t spell or punctuate get a PROFESSIONAL to do the final edit
  • Publish
  • Promote
  • Eat if you are lucky and sell a book…
  • Write another book

It may be that you will not be all that successful as an author, maybe that is not in your karma for this lifetime, maybe you will have to content yourself with a day job BUT you will be a writer because you love to tell your story in your own words.

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Good luck, be brave, be original!

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